Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How to Support Your "Favorite" Writer

This post was inspired by a chapter in Terry Brooks’s wonderful book on writing, Sometimes the Magic Works.

”Sometimes, when you are a professional writer, when you have successfully published and no longer have to worry about breaking down doors, you still have to make the occasional hard choice, and one of the hardest is choosing between writing what compels you and writing what makes money.” (p.169)

Buy the books. If you can afford it, buy them as soon as they come out. Also, when you “discover” or are turned on to a new writer by someone else, buy as much of the backlist as possible. These sales impact whether or not a writer gets another contract, and whether or not you’ll get to read another book.

Talk/write about the books you like. If a book truly excites you, start a buzz about it on the internet.

If an author whose work you like makes an appearance near you, make the time to attend the event. We never “have” the time to do anything any more. That’s how we’re kept in line – make ‘em fight to stay alive and barely get through the day and they won’t have any energy left to make the world a better place.

You have to wrestle the time from something else.

The writer cared enough to write the book. Shouldn’t you care enough to respond? Especially if you go around saying you’re a fan?

Allow your favorite writer to try something new. Read it with an open mind. If you like it, be vocal about it. If you don’t, at least don’t punish the writer for experimentation. Not every book is going to work. A writer needs the room to expand, grow, and try new things, even if they don’t work.

There’s a difference between being a fan of a writer, which means you support the entire body of work, and being a fan of one particular storyline. Make sure you know the difference, own it and take responsibility for it.

If you were told you could only watch football and NEVER watch another sport again, how would you feel? Or that you could only wear green shoes, and never another color? Or only ever eat in the same restaurant and never try anything new?

Why shouldn’t a writer stretch creative wings? If you are a genuine fan, you’ll go along with it – even when it doesn’t work. Now, if the writer decides to go down a road book after book that appalls you, you have no obligation to go along. But at least give the writer a chance.

Demanding repetition isn’t being a fan. It’s being a prison guard. Is that the mark you want to leave on the world?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Scottish Author Second Only To Oprah

Scottish author, JK Rowling, came second in a survey to establish the The 20 Richest Women in Entertainment. According to Forbes Magazine, Rowling is now worth £507m ($1bn), second only to Oprah Winfrey with an estimated fortune of £700m ($1.5bn).

Edinburgh-based Rowling, who wrote the first Harry Potter book with the aid of a Scottish Arts Council grant in a Leith cafe, now rakes in millions of dollars in royalties, and millions more in merchandising from the incredibly successful film adaptations of her books.

Lea Goldman, an editor with Forbes, said: "These days just about any lip-smacking starlet can land a cable reality show or become You Tube's flavour of the week. But fame's 15 fleeting minutes can elapse quicker than it takes to refresh a web page.

"Only a bona fide superstar can parlay a moment's stardom into a long and lucrative career. And even that's not enough to land a coveted spot on our first listing of the 20 Richest Women in Entertainment. For that, you'd need a minimum net worth of £23m ($45m)."

To compile the list, Forbes scoured all corners of the entertainment industry, from television, film, music, and publishing. Only those female celebrities who over time and have amassed the greatest fortunes were considered. It ruled out non-working celebrities who live off royalties, as well as "old Hollywood" types such as Elizabeth Taylor.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sometimes, You Just Can't Help

Writers, especially working writers, are among the most generous bunch of beings on the planet. They’re constantly putting down their own work to help someone else – with a critique, to help finding a better word or a new source.

But some of these wanna-bes who float in and out of the forums, bulletin boards, and discussion groups are thoroughly toxic, and a writer needs to learn to detach from these parasites before they suck the life out of you like vampires.

We all start knowing very little. We all need mentors. We all need to ask questions.

However, if nothing replaces doing the actual work.

If you want to be a writer, you have to sit your butt down in the chair and write. You have to research markets ON YOUR OWN, read the submission guidelines, and figure out what’s the best match.

Sure, another writer can guide you on a query letter and give feedback – but don’t expect another writer to do the work FOR you unless you’re paying said writer to ghost.

A working writer is under no obligation to walk a stranger into his editor or publisher, simply because the writer’s working and you’re starting out. You have to earn the respect and admiration that makes the writer OFFER to recommend you. You have to care enough to read the newbie mags, scour Writer’s Market, and learn basic grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. That is YOUR job. And, it’s in addition to crafting a piece so intelligent, creative, and lively that it pulls ahead of the pack.

Writers, when faced with such a lazy newbie, answer the first question kindly and point the person towards a source of information. Then, if the nagging persists and no learning curve is demonstrated, walk away. The wanna-be is never going to be satisfied, no matter how much you do for the person, and will suck you dry.

Save your energy for your own work and for emerging writers who EARN your respect.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

International Author Discovers Brother

International author, Ian McEwan, had the surprise of his life last week, when he discovered he had a brother he never knew existed.

Dave Sharp, an Oxford brick-layer, had been spending his spare time tracing his family history when he made the startling discovery. Adopted when he was younger, he found out he had been given away by his mother, Rose McEwan nee Wort.

Given Away

Rose became pregnant after a wartime affair with, David McEwan, but wanted to give the child away before her partner returned from overseas. Rose put an advertisement in the local paper and her baby was handed over to Rose and Percy Sharp at Reading railway station in Berkshire.
Unfortunately Rose's partner was killed in action, so she married David McEwan, who then went on to father Ian six years after Mr Sharp was born. Ironically both men grew up without knowing of the other's existence, and for 20 years the two men lived just 15 miles from one another.

Mr Sharp, now 64, went on to work in the building industry in south-east corner England.

Mr McEwan, 58, attended a private school, then a university and later achieved international acclaim for novels such as Atonement, The Cement Garden and Enduring Love. He was also awarded the CBE.


With the help of the Salvation Army's Family Tracing Service, Mr Sharp first traced Mrs McEwan's children with her first husband. This then led him to be able to track down his brother Ian. Mrs McEwan died in 2003.

Of their first meeting, Mr Sharp recalls that he had "no idea" of his brother's fame until autograph hunters interrupted them in the pub.

He said: "I had never heard of him. Of course, I've read all of his books now, but whether he's a road-sweeper or an author is immaterial. He's just my brother to me."

Mr Sharp has now turned author himself, and is writing a book, Complete Surrender, about his experiences, aided by ghost-writer John Parker.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What Makes A Good Short Story?

Well, certainly, I’m no expert as I too have yet to crack Glimmertrain (but I will dang it!), but after a year of reading short stories submitted to The Scruffy Dog Review, I’m getting to see a familiar formula in the accepted work.

With a short story, even one as long as three-thousand words, you have less room to tell the story in order to wrap it up as neat as possible. So, creative and complex characters have to be fleshed out quicker, the plot needs to explode within the first few paragraphs and you have to use the most appropriate words to paint the story in the mind of the reader.

Many stories we read and reject start too slowly. If I, as the editor, cannot get interested in the story by the fourth paragraph at the latest, I probably won’t read much further. Most of the stories tell a great tale, but get too bogged down in the details. I need only enough to paint the picture and no more. The skill is to balance the movement and detail to give me the right mix.

Fresh and unique storylines that are well-written are most certainly going to hold our attention. Our editors are very picky and with odds are stacked even greater when compared to the sheer volume of submissions we receive.

It is the opinion of this editor that stories which snap from the pages, make us shiver or cry or leave a lingering image in our minds are the stories that are going to get published both here at the Scruffy Dog Review and all other publications!

Good luck and get writing!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


What space do you take up when you write?

What is your physical space when you write? And, more importantly, what is your mental space?

I am capable of writing anywhere – trains, backstage with a bite light, in a restaurant, at the library.

I prefer to write at home. It’s not my ideal library space, but I‘ve got my computer desk (which usually looks like a filing cabinet threw up all over it) where I do computer work, and I have the kitchen table, where I write longhand. With cats rolling over the papers and stealing the pens.

It sounds like I couldn’t possibly get anything done in that environment, but I find feline interruptions helpful instead of harmful.

If it’s relatively quiet in the outside world, I might have the CD player on across the room, very low. If there’s repetitive machine noise , I use my Zen V.

If it’s quiet enough, I only have the fountain on and write to the sound of trickling water (I’m a Pisces, remember).

Color-wise, I prefer water tones or earth tones. I like the steady ticking of a clock (or clocks). Yet the sound of a metronome makes me want to scream. Go figure.

Wind chimes are fine. A car alarm is not.

Howling winds are inspiring. Although, when the lights flicker, I shut off the computer, put on the big candles, and write by candlelight in the kitchen.

In other words, I am extremely affected by sound.

Usually, when I start a creative writing session, I light a candle. I extinguish it when I’m done. Sometimes, I’ll burn incense or have the oil burner on with the essential oil of the moment wafting out.

I need that serenity in order to occupy the emotional landscape of whatever it is on which I’m working. A modern-day piece allows more distraction from the outside world; a created world needs more silence and more control of my physical environment in order to blossom.

It becomes almost an astral projection, if I get deep enough into the work. And it is sometimes difficult to return.

I revisit actual places I love or places that inspire me. I stretch geography – using real landmarks, but creating fictional towns near them, so I can arrange things the way I wish. I revisit the same themes over and over – the need for loyalty and the consequences of betrayal – but the physical landscape changes, and the physical landscape affects the emotional one.

My physical space and my mental space feed off each other.

So I’m working at cleaning up my desk. I already have some beautiful pieces on it, that mean something to me: Ganesh, angels, a laughing god, a crystal, a small frames picture of violets (the flower, not my cat), a replica of the Eiffel tower, a gargoyle, a drawing of Coventina-the-well-goddess, a silver fortune cookie that was a gift on the opening night of Flower Drum Song, a stuffed dragon. I’m trying to clear away the paperwork that piles up and keep it as more of a creativity altar than clutter carnage.

I want to support the mental space by enhancing my physical space.

What type of spaces do you inhabit when you work?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Obituary: Harry Horse

The Scottish Arts community lost a legend last week after Richard Horne and his wife, Mandy, were found dead on Shetland. It appears Harry assisted Mandy's suicide, a sufferer of terminal chronic multiple sclerosis, then killed himself. They were both found on Wednesday 10th January, 2006 at 10am.

Mr Horne was an award-winning writer and political cartoonist, who worked under the name Harry Horse. Colleagues said they were a wonderful couple, and his agent, Caroline Sheldon, added: "I represented the brilliant Harry Horse for 15 years as his literary agent and a friend. He was a genius both in words and illustrations.”

Who was He?

Many authors choose to use pseudonyms, and the ways they come up with these names vary from the imaginative to the simply outrageous. Richard Horne’s story lies somewhere in between. He decided on his authorial name when a school teacher misread his father's handwriting on the school register, but quite where ‘Harry’ came from will probably never now be known.

On December 27, 1977, when aged only 17, he abandoned his native Warwickshire on the toss of a coin. Heads it was Edinburgh, tails it was London. "I'm glad it was Edinburgh," he recalled many years later in an interview with The Glasgow Herald, "because it was smaller. I would have been terrified in London, completely naive."

Yet Harry always retained a sense of the naïve; it’s what his friends and colleagues seemed to love about him most. His sense of innocent wonder, bewildered outrage, and un-ending amazement at the world around him, was a joy to behold.

His outlook on life was also expressed through his fashion style. Often dressed in long black trench-coat, Napoleonic hat, and biker-style boots, he looked a dominating character, yet his soft eyes and larger-than-life build, betrayed him as a warm and approachable person in every sense.

First Book

In 1983 Harry wrote his first book; he was 23. The Ogopogo: My Journey With The Loch Ness Monster, which was entirely written and drawn by himself, was met with poor sales initially but went on to become the first children's book to win the Scottish Arts Council Award.

By 1990 he had joined a band called Swamptrash as lead singer, which he felt was never given due respect by the Scottish press. His wife, Mandy, was their No 1 fan, and while attending a meeting with Andrew Jaspan, then the editor of the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Harry produced a sketch book full of his drawings. So impressed was Jaspan, he was soon appointed the paper’s political cartoonist.

He delighted in lampooning the Tory party. "I still have a cartoon of John Major posed as a ridiculous Imperial Leader," says Jaspan. Harry loved to reverse the psychology of the Scotland, England make-up, often portraying Scotland as the dominant big brother.


Harry's career took off in several directions in the early nineties. Swamptrash did not last long but proved to be very influential for him. Increasingly though, he was in demand as a children's author and illustrator.

His first employer was Stephanie Wolfe-Murray of Edinburgh publisher Canongate. In 1981 Harry illustrated Magus The Lollipop Man by Michael Mullen, his first assignment.

Over the next few years Harry moved on to other publishers, but continued to work on ad-hoc projects with Canongate. "One day he came into the office, rubbing his hands with glee," recalls Wolfe-Murray. "He had sold a long lost diary to an antique dealer for a lot of money, probably about £25, I really can't remember. He claimed that he had stolen it from his parents' library and every now and again he would be prepared to take another. And he did, or so the hapless antique dealer believed. This went on for several weeks. Harry sweated over the creation of these diaries, soaking the pages in tea and heating them in the oven to give them an ancient appearance. They were works of art, filled with tiny delicate writing and wonderful little pencil drawings. Unfortunately one of my colleagues at Canongate spilled the beans to the antique dealer which put a stop to it. Now they will be collectors' items. The diarist's name was an anagram of Harry's real name, Richard Horne."


Harry will be best remembered for his children's books and, in particular, those featuring Roo, "a dog of unknown breed and age", who Mandy and he rescued from Portobello Dog and Cat Home in 1990. When she died in May 2006, Harry emailed all of his friends: "Just a line to let you know that Roo has passed away from this life to the next. She did not suffer, but died in my arms on her favourite place, the beach at Meal in Burra. She is buried at Kullade and a simple headstone marks the place."


By now, Mandy, not yet 40, was gravely ill from multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. "I spend most of my days in the kitchen rather than the studio," Harry wrote. "I have a considerable number of teabags at my disposal."

He was often in despair. "I get the black dog," he once told Vicky Allan of The Sunday Herald. "If I don't draw, then I get depressed. So it is therapy." There was a lot in the world that affected him: war, global warming, consumerism, cruelty to animals, political correctness, unappreciativeness of artists and writers.

Towards the end his cartoons became increasingly dark and he was offered ridiculously low sums of money for thousands of copies of his books. The Last Polar Bears is rumoured to have sold over a million copies, yet he received next to nothing. If true, it is a sad injustice to the wonderful man who was Harry Horse.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Publication Date is Coming Soon!

After a few hiccups and bumps, we are almost there! The next issue of The Scruffy Dog Review will publish on January 16th. This issue is full of fiction, poetry, The Literary Athlete and Scotlands Treasure. Sandra Kring, author of CARRY ME HOME and THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS will be our guest author.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why Do a Writing Exercise?

What’s the purpose of a “writing exercise”? Shouldn’t you spend those hard-fought for, spare moments writing something that will actually sell?

Writing exercises serve several purposes.

The first and most important is to get you writing. Too many writers use the lame excuse “I don’t have time” – which, of course, in reality, means writing isn’t important enough for them to turn off the television or get off internet surfing and get down to work.

But an “exercise” – well, those usually just take a few minutes, right? It’s much easier to mentally get one’s head around an exercise than, say, a novel.

So the exercise can get you to put that pen to paper or fingers on keyboards and actually get a few words out there.

If you exercise your writing the way you exercise your body, eventually you will add to the “body” of your work.

If you’re stuck –whether it’s from not working regularly or for working too hard – an exercise can get you moving in a new direction and help unstick you. Sometimes working on something completely unrelated to your Primary Project – especially if it’s something as large as a novel – can help you find your own personal rhythm, separate from the rhythm of your novel.

When you feel as though you’re spinning your wheels, as though you’re retreading the same literary territory over and over again, an exercise can help you stretch. Again, the similarity between the physical exercise and the literary exercise comes into play.

Exercises keep your mind and your keyboard limber. They’re not just for beginning writers – they’re for all writers, to break up your day and widen your perspective.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Aye Write! Festival Programme Announced

The Aye Write! Glasgow Book Festival programme was announced yesterday afternoon, and revealed hopes that this year’s festival may be the best ever. Centred in the Mitchell Library, the 9-day festival will commence on 16th February.

There are to be more than 120 sessions with Scottish and international writers and broadcasters, and this year there is to be a strong focus on encouraging more reading and writing in the west of Scotland. A free week-long children's festival for schools will also take place.

The opening night is devoted to the work of Liz Lochhead, Tom Leonard and William MacIlvanney. Other highlights this year include military historian Antony Beevor, cartoonist Steve Bell and authors Sophie Kinsella and Jenny Colgan of considerable chick-lit fame..

Best-selling author William Boyd, John Burnside, winner of the Scottish Book of the Year in 2006, John Banville, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize and novelist Howard Jacobson will also appear.

Broadcaster Michael Buerk will discuss contemporary media, while Kate Adie and Jonathan Kaplan speak about working in the "world's worst areas". Iain Banks's new novel, The Steep Approach to Garbadale will have its first preview, and the festival will also examine the question of slavery at a major debate, which will include black historian Mike Phillips and Clare Short MP, in the slavery abolition act bi-centenary.

Gavin Wallace, head of literature for the Scottish Arts Council, said: "Aye Write! has established itself on Scotland's literary map with remarkable rapidity and flair - it is hard to believe it began only two years ago."

The Scottish Arts Council, which is among festival sponsors, described the 2007 programme as "a belter". Karen Cunningham, director of the festival, said: "Our aim was to create a programme that highlighted the best Glasgow and Scottish writers as well as bring international writers to the city. We are delighted with the quality of our 2007 programme which appeals to all that love writing and books."

Related Links:
Aye Write! Glasgow Book Festival

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Nano Now What

Happy 2007, Everyone! I hope your holidays were delightful, and I wish you many hours of productive writing for 2007.

For those of you who did Nano – or for those of you who are simply slogging away, trying to finish your latest work-in-progress, you’ve probably hit a wall at this point. You worked your butt off in November; December was all about holidays and catching up on everything you let slide in November.

But now it’s January and . . .now what?

First things first: Have you finished?

I was lucky enough to hit the 50K mark on Assumption of Right by November 18 and finish the first draft by the end of the month. So, my first draft is done and I could let it rest.

If you haven’t finished, take it out and set a goal for yourself of 1000 words/day – that’s only 4 pages – until you’re done. 4 pages/day is a realistic goal, even with a crazy schedule. You can spend the rest of the day thinking about the next four pages, until you actually get the time to do them on the following day.

Unfinished projects drain your energy – creatively and otherwise.

So, finish first.

Once you’re done, let it rest – any time from between two weeks and two months. On a novel-length project, I like to wait for two months. On shorter projects, if the deadlines allow it, two weeks.

If you finished your novel in November, the end of this month is a good time to go back to it.

Take your time with the edit, especially the first edit after letting it rest. It’s important to read it as though someone else wrote it, not read it with passionate attachment to each and every word. Face it – some of them are going to need to be cut or changed.

Read it over, from beginning to end, several times, before taking a single note. Then, start taking notes. Then work your way through it – completely – before going back for another revision. Otherwise, you’ll overwork Chapter 1 by rewriting it 72 times, and only rewrite the last chapter once – and it will show. You’ll be too tired to see it, but any editor or agent to whom you pitch it will catch it.

Remember, very often, editing isn’t just fixing grammar and spelling, or substituting a word here and there. You might have to cut out huge chunks. You might have to add or remove characters. You might need to rearrange chapters.

You have to do what’s best for the story, not for your ego.

But once you get back into the piece’s natural rhythm – not YOUR rhythm, but the unique rhythm of the PIECE – you’ll flow with it. Where the first draft could and should have been rather free-flowing, now is the time you get to play god and rearrange things. Trust in the process and in the art, but layer the craft over it, draft after draft.

And enjoy the process, because you’re working towards your ultimate goal for the piece – publication. It can’t be published if it’s not written and polished.